Crypto Features: They’re Not For Girls

If you have worked in an office that contained a typewriter, the chances are you’ve been in the workplace for several decades. Such has been the inexorable advance of workplace computing. It’s a surprise then to discover that one of the desirable toys from many decades ago, the Barbie Typewriter, is still available. Are hipster parents buying toy versions of vintage office machinery for their children to use in an ironic fashion?

Gone though are the plastic versions of mechanical typewriters that would have been the property of a 1970s child. The modern Barbie typist has an electronic typewriter at her fingertips, with a daisy-wheel printer. We’re treated to a teardown of the recent models courtesy of Crypto Museum, who reveal a hidden feature, Barbie’s typewriter can encrypt and decrypt messages.

Now the fact that a child’s toy boasts a set of simple substitution cyphers is hardly the kind of thing that will set the pulses of Hackaday readers racing, after all simple letter frequency analysis is hardly new. But of course, the Crypto Museum angle is only part of this story.

This toy is made in a suitably eye-watering shade of pink, and sold by Mattel with Barbie branding. But it didn’t start life as a Barbie product, instead it’s licensed from the Slovenian manufacturer Mehano. The original toy makes no secret of the crypto functions, but though they persist in the software on the Barbie version they are mysteriously absent from the documentation. The achievements of American women are such that they have given us high-level languages and compilers, or their software has placed men on the Moon, yet it seems when they are young a brush with elementary cryptology is beyond them in the way that it isn’t for their Slovenian sisters. This is no way to nurture a future Grace Hopper or Margaret Hamilton, though sadly if your daughter is a Lisa Simpson this is just one of many dumbed-down products she’ll be offered.

If you see a Barbie electronic typewriter in a yard sale or similar, and you can pick it up for a few dollars, buy it. It’s got a simple daisywheel printer mechanism that looks eminently hackable. Just don’t buy it for your daughter without also printing out the Crypto Museum page for her as the missing manual.

When the Martian lander running her code has touched down safely, you’ll be glad you did.

Via Adafruit.

Rita’s Dolls Probably Live Better Than You Do

If it wasn’t for the weird Dutch-Norwegian techno you’d presumably have to listen to forever, [Gianni B.]’s doll house for his daughter, [Rita] makes living in a Barbie World seem like a worthwhile endeavor. True to modern form, it’s got LED lighting. It’s got IoT. It’s got an app and an elevator. It even has a tiny, working, miniature television.

It all started with a Christmas wish. [Rita] could no longer stand to bear the thought of her Barbie dolls living a homeless lifestyle on her floor, begging passing toys for enough monopoly money to buy a sock to sleep under. However, when [Gianni] visited the usual suspects to purchase a dollhouse he found them disappointing and expensive.

So, going with the traditional collaborating-with-Santa ruse, he and his family had the pleasure of collaborating on a dollhouse development project. Each room is lit by four ultra bright LEDs. There is an elevator that’s controlled by an H-bridge module, modified to have electronic braking. [Rita] doesn’t own a Dr. Barbie yet, so safety is paramount.

The brain of the home automation is a PIC micro with a Bluetooth module. He wrote some code for it, available here. He also went an extra step and used MIT’s scratch to make an app interface for the dollhouse. You can see it work in the video after the break. The last little hack was the TV. An old arduino, an SD Card shield, and a tiny 2.4 inch TFT combine to make what’s essentially a tiny digital picture frame.

His daughter’s are overjoyed with the elevation of their doll’s economic class and a proud father even got to show it off at a Maker Faire. Very nice!

Continue reading “Rita’s Dolls Probably Live Better Than You Do”

“Hello Barbie” Not an IoT Nightmare After All

Security researchers can be a grim crowd. Everything, when looked at closely enough, is insecure at some level, and this leads to a lot of pessimism in the industry. So it’s a bit of a shock to see a security report that’s filled with neither doom nor gloom.

We’d previously covered Somerset Recon’s initial teardown of “Hello Barbie” and were waiting with bated breath for the firmware dump and some real reverse engineering. Well, it happened and basically everything looks alright (PDF report). The Somerset folks desoldered the chip, dumped the flash ROM, and when the IDA-dust settled, Mattel used firmware that’s similar to what everyone else uses to run Amazon cloud service agents, but aimed at the “toytalk.com” network instead. In short, it uses a tested and basically sound firmware.

The web services that the creepy talking doll connected to were another story, and were full of holes that were being actively patched throughout Somerset’s investigation, but we were only really interested in the firmware anyway, and that looked OK. Not everything is horror stories in IoT security. Some stories do have a happy ending. Barbie can sleep well tonight.

Who’s Watching the Kids?

It wasn’t long ago that we saw the Echo bloom into existence as a standalone product from its conceptual roots as a smartphone utility. These little black columns have hardly collected their first film of dust on our coffee tables and we’re already seeing similar technology debut on the toy market, which causes me to raise an eye-brow.

There seems to be some appeal towards making toys smarter, with the intent being that they may help a child learn while they play. Fair enough. It was recently announced that a WiFi enabled, “Hello Barbie” doll will be released sometime this Fall. This new doll will not only be capable of responding to a child’s statements and questions by accessing the Internet at large, it will also log the likes and dislikes of its new BFF on a cloud database so that it can reference the information for later conversations. Neat, right? Because it’s totally safe to trust the Internet with information innocently surrendered by your child.

Similarly there is a Kickstarter going on right now for a re-skinned box-o-internet for kids in the shape of a dinosaur. The “GreenDino”, is the first in a new line called, CogniToys, from a company touted by IBM which has its supercomputer, Watson, working as a backbone to answer all of the questions a child might ask. In addition to acting as an informational steward, the GreenDino will also toss out questions, and upon receiving a correct answer, respond with praise.

Advancements in technology are stellar. Though I can see where a child version of myself would love having an infinitely smart robot dinosaur to bombard with questions, in the case of WiFi and cloud connectivity, the novelty doesn’t outweigh the potential hazards the technology is vulnerable to. Like what, you ask?

Whether on Facebook or some other platform, adults accept the unknown risks involved when we put personal information out on the Internet. Say for instance I allow some mega-corporation to store on their cloud that my favorite color is yellow. By doing so, I accept the potential outcome that I will be thrown into a demographic and advertised to… or in ten years be dragged to an internment camp by a corrupt yellow-hating government who subpoenaed information about me from the corporation I consensually surrendered it to.

The fact is that I understand those types of risks… no matter how extreme and silly they might seem. The child playing with the Barbie does not.

All worst case scenarios of personal data leakage and misuse aside, what happens when Barbie starts wanting accessories? Or says to their new BFF something like, “Wouldn’t we have so much more fun if I had a hot pink convertible?”

Don’t Blink, Ken… Or The Weeping Barbie Will Get You

WeepingBarbies
That which holds the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel. Have fun with that.

Barbie dolls have been around since 1959, but never before have they been this terrifying. [anthropolywog] decided to kick the creepy factor up a notch by modifying some poor, defenseless Barbie dolls into weeping angels.

If you aren’t familiar with the weeping angel concept, you probably don’t watch Dr. Who. The weeping angel episode, titled “Blink“, is now considered a classic Dr. Who episode. The basic premise is that some creepy, weeping stone statues can move only when no one is looking at them. Even closing your eyes for a moment to blink is enough to get them to move. It’s actually quite terrifying, but also awesome.

[anthropolywog] started by purchasing several ordinary Barbie dolls. She then cut off all of the arms at the elbow. This is because the Barbie arms do not normally bend at the elbow, and this was required to get that classic weeping angel pose. The hair was glued up into a bun, similar to the weeping angels from the show. The Barbies were then hot glued to wooden stands to make it easier to work on them.

Crinkle cotton fabric was then cut into a simple dress shape and draped over the dolls. The entire doll was then sprayed with a mixture of Elmer’s glue and water. This stiffens up the fabric and makes the whole thing look more statuesque.

The most complicated part was the wings. [anthropolywog] hand-made the wings from cardboard and craft feathers. This process took several hours of work in order to get something that would look right.

The dolls were primed for paint separately from the wings. The wings were then attached, and the whole doll was painted with “natural stone” textured spray paint. The final touch was to re-draw the faded eyes and mouths with a fine tipped permanent marker. You can see in the photo that the result turned out very well.

[via Reddit]

Warthog laser tag

The Warthog from Halo is one of the most beloved video game vehicles. [Tim Higgins] brings the fun to life with his laser tag Warthog game. It uses Barbie Power Wheels toys as a base and adds laser tag weaponry. Xbox 360 controllers are used but just like in Halo, you can’t control the gun and the vehicle at the same time. We’ve encountered [Tim’s] love for water-based amusement before and this did originally start out with a water cannon powered by a wind-shield washer reservoir.

Take a look at the videos after the break as well as his recent post for information about the hardware. His choices for controller circuitry are way overpowered, sourcing an Eee PC to do the heavy lifting. This is because the choices he made were for easy development and not economy of components. A PC has no problem connecting to Xbox 360 controllers, and the modular control boards mean no complicated circuit design or arduous soldering were necessary. In the end, this looks like a ton of fun and we give him bonus points for repainting the pretty pink plastic that comes standard with these models of children’s toys.

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OpenVulture, software for unmanned vehicles

barbie

The first talk of ShmooCon was [Ethan O’Toole] and [Matt Davis] presenting their OpenVulture software for unmanned vehicles. In the initial stages, they had just planned on building software for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, but realized that with the proper planning it could be used with any vehicle: airplanes, cars, boats, and subs (or more specifically, their Barbie PowerWheels). The software is in two parts. First is a library that lets you communicate with each of the vehicle’s modules. The second half is the actual navigation software.

They’ve spent a lot of time sourcing hardware modules. They are looking for items that work well, aren’t too expensive, and have a fairly plug and play implementation. For their main processor, they wanted something that wasn’t a microcontroller and could run a full Linux system. The ARM based NSLU2 NAS seems to be the current frontrunner. You can find the opensource software and descriptions of the supported modules on their site.

They’re building the first test UAVs now. One has a 12 foot wingspan for greater lift and stability. We’ve covered the Arduino based Ardupilot and other UAVs in the past.